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August 17, 2021 3 min read

The state of Andhra is rich in its tradition of crafts and textiles, including block printing, ikat handloom weaving and hand-painted kalamkari. Srikalahasti, located in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, is mainly known for its magnificent Shiva temple and is a pilgrimage centre in the south of India.  Hidden in its by-lanes and unknown to most visitors, is a beautiful craft, the art of hand painted ‘kalamkari’, vivid and captivating in its themes and mesmerising in its process.

History

Kalamkari is an ancient temple art that originated as a means of religious story- telling via images of Gods, Goddesses. The art depicts elaborate mythological themes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata and draws inspiration from the tales of Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva. As with every traditional painting, Kalamkari has a distinct imagery and iconography for its Gods, Goddesses, birds and animals. Motifs of flowers, paisleys, elephants and peacocks are also commonly used to depict the stories.

‘Kalamkari’ was patronised by Mughals in the Golconda province and the art has sustained through various rulers and regimes. A revival of Kalamkari occurred during the 1970’s, owing to the pioneering efforts of Smt. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay through organisations like Craft council of India and All India Handicrafts Board.

Process

The word Kalamkari denotes the use of a special 'Kalam' or a bamboo/ tamarind pen used for creating the outline in black ink.  The base fabric in cotton or silk, is first prepared by using a cow dung and bleach solution and then processed using milk and washing it under running water. This is an essential step before the artist starts the inking and colouring the fabric. The drawing is then inked in minute detail entirely free-hand without use of stencils. Creating an artwork requires hours of painstaking effort with great attention to detail.  A minimum of 3-4 weeks is needed for inking, painting, dyeing and washing a fabric.

 

Colours

All colours used by authentic Kalamkari artisans are natural dyes derived from vegetable and plant

extracts. Deeper and natural hues of blue, mustard, rama green, black and maroon reds are abundantly used. The colours are extracted from indigo leaves, iron, pomegranate peels, madder plants. The usage of natural dyes and milk creates a distinctive smell on the fabric and very often, establishes the authenticity the craft.

 Current scenario

Traditionally used as wall hangings, hand painted Kalamkari is now a wearable art form.  The rich tapestry of colours and themes are now used in sarees, dupattas and clothing by accomplished artisans. Awareness has also increased owing to newer designers and brands adopting the craft and elevating it using creative, contemporary themes.  A well created kalamkari art is now considered a prized possession by art collectors.

 

At Maati, our love for Kalamkari has deepened over the years through our association with master craftsman Shri Vishwanath Reddy, a National award winning artisan. He has been engaged in the craft for past 2 decades and create multiple works of breath-taking beauty. A visit to his home in Srikalahasti, is a revelation, with fabrics being inked, colored and washed and participation from all members of the family across genders and ages.

The current trends and growing love for Kalamkari also reaffirms our faith in this traditional craft that has evolved, stayed vibrant and relevant with changing times.


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